Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tuesday Turntable 4.28.09

1964-6: A wave of British rock bands become wildly popular in America, bringing us The Beatles, The Rolling Stones...
2004-9: The same thing happens out of...


If you've been paying attention lately, you will have noticed that the Swedes have now invaded, bearing gifts of rock and pop.

Since the artists don't tend towards heavy accents or drastically different attitudes from American music, the Swedish artists aren't automatically recognized as such. But the Swedish sound is something Americans are eating up right now, and with good reason.

Dance pop group The Knife starts off with their original "Heartbeats," which was subsequently covered more famously by José Gonzales. I personally prefer Gonzales' acoustic version, as The Knife's can be grating in certain moods, but I also think it is nifty to listen to them side-by-side.

"This Boy" comes from I'm From Barcelona (they aren't from Barcelona.) The repetitive chorus and light composition (complete with whistling!) is something you can notice in a lot of the music coming out of Sweden at this point, so I think it is pretty indicative of Swedish Indie in particular.

The intro of "Young Folks" always inspires a cheesy dance breakdown in my friends and I when it comes up on the plethora of our mix CDs it is featured on. This track should sound familiar; it is used to advertise pretty much everything: Xbox 360 soccer and karaoke games, Gossip Girl episodes, etc.

"Walk Idiot Walk" is a much older track, but The Hives are a totally awesome band (and, according to Spin, the best live band ever.) Only recently did I discover their Swedishness, and I think it makes this band even cooler. Almost as cool as the band's stage names: Howlin' Pete Almqist, Nicholaus Arson, Vigilante Carlstroem, Dr. Matt Destruction, and Chris Dangerous.

(Honorable Mention: Boten Anna by Basshunter.)

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Monday, April 27, 2009

New Decemberists Worth the Concept Album Hazards

The Hazards of Love
The Decemberists


I don’t think any of us were actually surprised that The Decemberists released a concept album. It was only a matter of time that the idea Colin Meloy played with on The Tain EP would get expanded into a full length LP. Really, though, we aren’t surprised because a concept album is definitely something that The Decemberists could do well. Often hailed as ‘indie’s most literate band,’ Meloy’s penchant for legends and storytelling translates readily into creating an album like Hazards of Love.

Hazards opens with three minutes of reverb, morphing into foreboding organ chords, taking us from the modern to the mysterious enchanted Taiga (a pretty word that refers to the biome south of the tundra. In this case, knowing The Decemberists, we are probably somewhere in Siberia.) Our heroine, Margaret, en route to her fiancé, comes across a wounded fawn. She treats its injuries and, to her surprise, the fawn turns into a man, the adopted son of an evil witch-queen. Unfortunately for the pregnant Margaret, the fawn-guy has fallen in love with her, and now wants to be freed by his adopted mother. Word to the wise: don’t cross evil Siberian witch-queens.

Up to this point, the musical arrangement is pretty traditional Decemberists – plenty of acoustic guitar, skillful bass a la Nate Query, vocal harmony. It is on “The Bower Scene” where you realize what justifies this new album. In between verses, the band drops the pretense of indie-smoothness and instead completely rocks out, breaking into a very weighty metal bridge. The new musical tricks employed on this album are only just beginning, however. “We Won’t Want For Love” employs female lead vocals in a way completely different from how female voices were used on Decemberists albums past. Whereas the voices on tracks such as “Yankee Bayonet” from The Crane Wife were intentionally child-like and basic, Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark isn’t holding back at all on “We Won’t Want for Love.” While still retaining the femininity and sweetness common of Decemberists leading ladies, Stark employs a full vocal range and has no problem carrying the track without extensive help from Meloy or back-up vocalists. Meloy only enters the track as a far-off echo, foreshadowing the couple’s later misfortune. The best thing about her very tangible performance in terms of the concept album is the distinctness of her voice leads you to feel as if she is really a character you connect with, just as if the album were a live musical. “Hazards of Love 2, Wager All” is a centerpiece for Meloy’s style, harkening back to the romance, beauty and hopefulness of earlier Castaways and Cutouts. The emotion packed into his “I’d wager all” lends much to the development of his character, who we know is going to indeed fear nothing in his quest to protect his Margaret.

“Isn’t it a Lovely Night,” with its saccharine sweetness and almost silly sentiment seems to serve mostly as a juxtaposition of the later power and chaos of the coming second act. (Though I will take a minute to geek out over a lyric. Margaret praises the fireflies lighting their moonlight getaway... we are in Siberia. How many fireflies could there be in Siberia??) One of the best transitions in indie rock has got to come between “Lovely Night” and “The Wanting Comes in Waves / Repaid.” The flowery, lilting melody of the former becomes suddenly sinister, transposed into a minor-key harpsichord solo of doom. Our fawn-fellow is in trouble now; pleading with his witch-queen mother to be freed to be with Margaret very ‘royally’ pisses her off. The “Repaid” half of this track really shows us what we’re dealing with in the queen. Meloy has written her as an Angry Metal Mama, which, when sung by My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden, is incredibly awesome. Her vocals could not be farther from Margaret’s; all the sweet girlishness is replaced with powerhouse badassery, bringing us a crashing close to the first act.

“The Rake’s Song” is the first single from Hazards. Its contagious rhythm guitar line is just as menacing as the Rake himself, a child-murdering scoundrel who goes into cahoots with the Queen. This song, as mentioned before, is meant as a single, but it isn’t clear if the subject matter or lyrics will make any sense on the radio, or if it will just leave those who don’t own the album puzzled and wondering if Colin Meloy might need some counseling. However, in terms of Hazards, “The Rake’s Song” is the centerpiece, strong musically and story-wise. The Rake soon kidnaps Margaret of his own accord in a reprise of “The Bower Scene,” but the Queen helps him to cross the Annan River in thanks for his intention to ‘defile’ Margaret (nice lady.) Margaret’s panicked lover in “Annan Water” is played brilliantly by Meloy’s vocals, and the folk elements more common to The Decemberists are placed directly against the metal of the previous track, another example of the skillful manner in which Meloy distinguishes between characters in listeners minds without visual representation.

As our hero rushes to save Margaret from the clutches of the Rake, he is bought some time by the ghosts of the rake’s murdered children. “The Hazards of Love #3, Revenge!” is probably the creepiest Decemberists song to date, another way of saying the ‘one of the coolest.’ A sneaky children’s choir performs the dead children, who seek revenge on their father by sinking the Queen’s ship, drowning the Rake, the Queen and her fawn-son. Margaret survives to be rescued by her true love, but, in true Decemberists fashion, they are still doomed. The lover promised the river that if he was able to rescue Margaret, it could have his life in return. Not the best forward-thinker, he. Though somewhat predictable to Decemberists fans, (13 other lovers have died at Meloy’s pen stroke in previous albums) album-closer “The Hazards of Love #4, The Drowned” is by far the most emotional of all previous Decemberists tragedies. I have listened to this album about 6 or 7 times now, and this song has yet to fail to jerk a tear, a reaction that the story of a CD has never before garnered. Margaret and her love are married on the sinking ship even as the rapids crash around them. If you are young and in love, make sure Colin Meloy never writes a song about you.

Hazards of Love can be considered a showcase for every trick The Decemberists has as a band. Meloy’s lyrics and vocals are more emotive than ever, the music arrangement is innovative and exciting, and the raw talent of all the band members and guest vocalists are captured in Margaret’s story. The most critical thing to be said about Hazards is it is truly exclusively a concept album. It won’t make sense on shuffle or playlists, this can be considered to be a single 59-minute song. But with a story as compelling and masterfully told as that of Margaret, the Fawn, the Rake and the Queen, the time investment will surely gladly be made by fans new and old.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tuesday Turntable 4.21.09

Welcome to your Tuesday morning!

Our theme is something completely irresistable...

British Accents!

Let's hop right in, shall we?

First off is "You! Me! Dancing!" by Los Campesinos!. The two-minute instrumental intro is far from dull, it always grabs attention with its impressive cresendo. Gareth Campesinos!'s Wales-accent-laden, high-speed chattering characterizes this track as true Brit Twee Pop.

"Emily Kane" from Art Brut is an obvious choice for our celebration of accents, and again, this song has such a charming and silly tone that only the Grinch could deny its adorability.

Perhaps more conventional but no less cheery is "Keep Singing Out," by Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. Sam Duckworth of Essex, England's band is named in pretty much the most awesome way I can imagine; the title comes from the quest notes of an original Batman video game, which stated 'Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.'

Kate Nash is pop music at its most tongue-in-cheek and introspective, without coming off as pretentious. Far from it, "Mouthwash" is a ballad about, above all else, being normal. Somehow, she pulls this off without the paradox of singing about how normal you are on a platinum record.

The best accent ever belongs to Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers on "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles.)" Don't argue with me. I'm right.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Record Store Day! April 18 2009

Sat, April 18, 2009

Exciting news!

We have all noticed how scary the situation has been for record stores in the last few years. With the combination of illegal downloads, iTunes, and the recession, we are in danger of losing our beloved treasure troves of CD and vinyl.

To try to re-awaken awareness of and excitement for independent stores, most of them across the nation are bringing in bands, music writers, exclusive merch, and a plethora of other free goodies and perks!

Highlights of the exclusive merch include:
- Sets from Matador Records including Sonic Youth and Beck covering each other and a unreleased Pavement live LP from Germany.
- My Morning Jacket live EP, Celebraciòn de la Ciudad Natàl.
- Blood on the Tracks, a vinyl-only compilation from Domino Records.
- Bob Dylan's "Dreaming of You"/"Down Along the Cove" 7", recorded live at Bonnaroo.
- Exclusive Death Cab for Cutie tee
- An 18-track Iron and Wine live album, taped at a 1995 show in Norfolk, Virginia.
- "The Rake's Song"/"East India Lanes", a 7" from the Decemberists.
- 7" from Kill Rock Stars labelmates the Thermals and Thao With the Get Down Stay Down.
- Vinyl reissues of Jane's Addiction's Ritual de lo Habitual and Nothing's Shocking.
- "Wrong"/"Oh Well", a 7" from Depeche Mode.
- Limited Edition Gibson/Epiphone guitars!
- A split 7" from Andrew Bird and Loney Dear.
- "Break Up the Pavement"/Love's…", a red vinyl 7" from the Pretenders.
- The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' It's Blitz vinyl LP.
- The Talking Heads' 77 LP on 180-gram vinyl.
- A split 10" picture disc from Cursive and Ladyfinger.
- A four-LP retrospective compilation from Def Jam.
(Source: http://pitchfork.com/news/35076-the-pitchfork-guide-to-record-store-day/)

And a list of participating stores in Colorado:
Angelo's CDs, Aurora
Albums on the Hill, Boulder
Bart's CD Cellar, Boulder
Independent Record and Video, Colorado Springs. all locations
The Leechpit, Colorado Springs
Cheapo Discs, Denver
Independent Record and Video, Denver
LP Hound's Vinyl House, Denver
Twist and Shout, Denver
Wax Trax, Denver
Southwest Sound, Durango
Sgt Pepper's Music and Video, Estes Park
The Finest Record Store, Ft Collins
Rock 'n' Robin's, Ft Collins
Angelo's CDs, Littleton
Pueblo Records and Tapes, Pueblo
Independent Records and Video, Pueblo
Angelo's CDs, Thornton
Angelo's CDs, Wheat Ridge

Independent Music Lovers, Unite and Mobilize!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuesday Turntable 4.14.09

The late Seventies wasn't a time I had associated with great music. Until I started paying attention, that is.

This Turntable is comprised of songs produced between 1977-79, and if you aren't already familiar with these, you should get that way. For real, if you haven't heard of the bands themselves, I'd be willing to bet a good portion of your music library is greatly influenced by the punk and post-punk coming out of these years.

First is "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads. In perfect honesty, I discovered this song while playing Rock Band II in my dorm. Not the most distinguished of musical venues, yet if I hadn't first heard this song when it was my turn to sing, I might not appreciate it as much as I do. The off-kilter lyrics had me giggling shyly to the group as I sang, but once the chorus broke out, I dropped all my bashful pretense. This has got to be one of the most insanely fun choruses to sing (poorly) in the Rock Band repertoire, if not in seventies music in general.

I think "Shot by Both Sides"'s opening guitar solo says more than I can about how great this song is. Magazine was literally post-punk, with frontman Howard Devoto frustratedly quitting his former punk band (a little outfit you might have heard of: The Buzzcocks) in order to form Magazine. He doesn't fully lose sight of his roots, but the more conventional structure of the song allowed Magazine to access a fanbase on which traditional punk was lost.

"Hey, I know I've heard this song before! It was selling the New VW Beetle a few years back, right?"
"Yeah, it's called "Mr. Blue Sky.""
"Oh, right, by the Polyphonic Spree, right?"
"Um, not quite, this band is Electric Light Orchestra, they're from 1977."
*indie cred instantly crushed, mwah ha ha, take that, hipster!*

Ok, Ok, so two of the songs on this Turntable I discovered from video games. Epic fail, I know. But seriously, these game designers have pretty awesome taste, and I'm apparently in their debt. The lyrics to "Surrender" are perhaps even more relevant today than they were in the seventies. Every generation, of course, will be apt to say their parents 'seem a little weird,' I suppose, but relatability doesn't sacrifice excitement in this Cheap Trick ode to being freaked out when your parents make out.

The Only Ones didn't last much longer than their first album, but it was enough to get us "Another Girl, Another Planet." What I notice about this song is, it's a hell of a lot catchier than most punk songs out there. I hear it in a lot of the pop-punk bands that came into existence in the nineties. As long as it doesn't turn out that it's responsible for Simple Plan, it will remain one of my favorite Brit Punk songs.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

iTunes Plus: A Plus or Minus?

In April 2003, the way we buy music was fundamentally changed. In this month (in which I turned 13, fancy that!) iTunes launched the iTunes Store feature, bringing the digital format of purchased music into the mainstream. Once we got over the exciting new immediacy with which we could own any song we fancied, however, we noticed some problems. The songs could only be uploaded to 5 hard drives, ever. Upload it to the three computers you use and backup on a portable hard drive, and then replace those computers a couple years later? You were out of luck once you needed music on that sixth drive. There were (very) strict limits to how many times you could burn this music to a CD. (So much for those mix-CDs to woo your crush, sad day.) The quality of the sound on the CDs also deteriorated drastically once it was ripped to a computer or portable music player. Oh, and the mp4 DRM protected songs wouldn't even play on some of the non-iPod mp3 players. Protected files would quickly become the bane of music sharers everywhere. In theory, you own this music, but DRMput huge limits on what you could do with your own digital 'property.'iTunes noticed a couple years after the launch of their store that more and more users were turning to other music stores like Amazon.com, from which you could download protection-free mp3s (a format that is generally much easier to work with than iTunes' mp4.) In fall 2007, iTunes began offering music from select labels in a DRM-free format, given for a higher price than their DRM-protected counterparts. It wasn't until February of 2009 that iTunes has become DRM-free. In addition to removing the DRM protection, iTunes has upgraded the sound quality of iTunes Plus tracks to 256 kbps, contrasted with the former iTunes default of only 128 kbps.

The transition is definitely not without its catches. When I click the 'Upgrade Your Library' link in the iTunes Store, it takes me to a page that boasts I can un-protect the albums I purchased on 'old iTunes' for $3-4 each. More sneaky, however, is the necessary consequence of doubling the kbps to 256. Where typically songs three minutes in length takes 3MB of space, iTunes Plus files of the same length are 6MB. In theory, if one had filled an iPod with only albums purchased on old iTunes and then chose to pay the $3 an album to upgrade to iTunes Plus versions, that person would need an entire additional iPod to accommodate the extra space. The supposed difference in sound quality achieved by doubling the kbps of the files is negligible unless listened to on the highest quality sound systems; the effect is certainly lost on iPod's low-grade ear buds.

It's not an easy call, whether the perks of iTunes Plus are worth the extra room, or the price of upgrading older songs. My two cents: Apple can only get away with the tiny hard drives in iPod Touches for so long - the original iPods expanded to a standard 120 GB in a fairly short amount of time, so it would follow that iTouch harddrives should expand in a similar timeframe. If I can't buy CDs easily anymore, (in Denver, the last major music retailer, Virgin Records, closes this month, an unfortunate consequence of the digital music phenomenon) I would at least like to be able to burn the music I buy online to hard copies without worrying about DRM limitations. As of February, iTunes Plus tracks don't cost anymore, so as long as you aren't worried about disk room, I think it is a trade-up worth making.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009